Late double by Gunners sinks Palace on emotional night for Hodgson
Crystal Palace 1 Arsenal 3
Crystal Palace were undone by late strikes by Arsenal substitute Gabriel Martinelli and Nicolas Pepe to at least partially spoil tributes to their outgoing manager Roy Hodgson at Selhurst Park.
The Eagles were so close to earning a well deserved point before Martinelli popped up to force home a cross by Martin Odegaard in the final minute of normal time, before Pepe made it three for Mikel Arteta’s outfit.
Christian Benteke headed an equaliser in the second half to atone for going behind to Pepe’s earlier strike, and that looked like enough to grab a draw. Nevertheless, for all Arsenal's clear fortune, the outcome simply did not reflect the circumstances of the evening.
Both sides had their moments - Arsenal had possession in spells but failed in terms of overall creativity, while Palace will be pleased with their chances instigated.
However, the night was all about Hodgson, who started his coaching exploits 45 years ago in a nomadic career. His final task will be to guide the Eagles away to his former club, Liverpool, at the weekend, after their pockets were rather unfairly picked by the unconvincing Gunners.
Almighty, sweeping choruses from the home support to acclaim the 73 year old ex-England manager and boyhood Palace fan were a fitting conclusion, albeit that a victory proved to be elusive.
The defeat was soon forgotten with the accolades for Hodgson – such a stellar figure of the English game - a matter of more importance. Palace fans, unsurprisingly, remained behind to say an emotional goodbye, both to their manager and his long time assistant Ray Lewington. ‘Silver Eagle’ gifts and club portraits were presented to the pair with the Palace chief admitting in his pitch side address how he has enjoyed a “magnificent” career.
Clearly, the much lauded home support gave the hosts a boost from kick off. As the evening sun gently set in this corner of south London, it was a highly impressive spectacle to hear the kind of noise even a limited crowd of 6,500 could make.
And the fortunate Palace fans were delighted to be back, mindful of the need to put on a performance off the pitch for Hodgson as much as they hoped the players would on it. Only three days earlier, the Eagles stirred in extravagant fashion, with an exciting 3-2 win over Aston Villa in the sort of clash which deserved a packed crowd to witness. Still, a semblance of normality was edging back to Selhurst Park.
To that end, both teams looked aggressive early on - and it was home defender Gary Cahill who went closest, flashing a header a yard wide in the sixth minute.
Meanwhile, Emile Smith-Rowe – at the vanguard of this new, often skittish Gunners era under Arteta - was keen to add to his goals claimed in the recent victories over West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea. From an Arsenal perspective, the fact that they had won their previous three Premier League games may be too little, too late in terms of European participation next term. Regrettably, that recent Europa League semi-final defeat to Villarreal still rankles at the club.
Arsenal began to edge matters but lacked the cutting edge, with lone striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang well policed by James Tomkins and Cahill.
Palace should have taken the lead, however, when in the 29th minute, Benteke headed powerfully over the bar, following a well flighted Andros Townsend free kick. Jeffrey Schlupp was next to try his luck, only to find Gunners’ keeper Bernd Leno equal to his low drive. The intent was certainly obvious from Hodgson’s men throughout the opening half.
Arsenal needed a bit of both fortune and ingenuity – and they took advantage of a rare bout of slackness from Palace to open the scoring in the 34th minute.
Somehow, as Bukayo Saka supplied a cross from the left after good interplay with Kieran Tierney, Pepe found himself in plenty of space around 12 yards out to casually steer the ball home just beyond the grasp of Vicente Guaita. A fortuitous breakthrough by the north Londoners, considering Palace were displaying no little verve at regular intervals.
Arsenal, stabilised by the goal advantage at half time, re-emerged more focused and content, with Mohamed Elneny, Thomas Partey and Tierney finding pockets of space to dictate play.
Palace, on the other hand, regressed in terms of attacking intensity. Could they get talisman Wilfried Zaha on the ball more often, in the hope of conjuring up a characteristic, special slice of invention?
It was, though, left to Benteke to draw the Eagles level after another, more fruitful, combination with Townsend. In the 62nd minute, the wing-back slung in a free kick from the left and, forward Benteke was just about onside, according to VAR, stooping to head past Leno for his 10th goal of the season. Indeed – and perhaps more significantly - the roar which greeted the moment was a reminder of how welcome it was to hear supporters finally back through the turnstiles and in full effect.
Arteta responded for Arsenal by sending on Odegaard for Saka to freshen things up, with the Eagles’ wings now almost fully expanded. Leno then had to be alert to deny Benteke from close range to prevent Palace from going in front.
Calum Chambers at least kept Zaha from pulling the trigger on one threatening occasion as the Gunners began to labour, with little sign of what waas to come. Despite those late goals – Pepe, admittedly, netted with aplomb for his second - to claim the victory, questions remain for Arteta as he considers his options in the close season.
Crystal Palace: Guaita, Ward, Tomkins, Kouyate, Townsend, Zaha, Schlupp, Benteke (Ayew 78) , McCarthy (Riedewald 81), Cahill, Mitchell
Arsenal: Leno, Tierney (Xhaka 77) , Gabriel, Chambers, Holding, Partey (Martinelli 77) , Elneny, Smith-Rowe, Aubameyang, Pepe, Saka (Odegaard 63)